Kim Kardashian West, coming off her ​recent ​success in getting President Trump to pardon a grandmother serving a life sentence, has taken to Twitter to ask California Gov. Jerry Brown to give San Quentin death row inmate Kevin Cooper the DNA tests he has been denied, tests that could prove his innocence.

​Cooper has been imprisoned for 34 years for a ​savage crime he insists he did not commit—the 1983 slaughter of chiropractors and Arabian horse breeders Doug and Peggy Ryen, both 47, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes. Christopher was a friend of Joshua Ryen, 8 years old at the time, who was attacked and left for dead.

Though Cooper has lost all his appeals, in 2009 five judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asserted he was framed by the San Bernardino, Calif., Sheriff’s Department. The judges were joined by six colleagues in asking for a hearing to prove his innocence. ​Cooper’s attorneys continue to gather new evidence that he did not commit the crime.

What separates execution and exoneration in the case are modern DNA tests that Cooper’s attorneys claim could prove he was framed. They are being fought by the San Bernardino district attorney’s office and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who say enough DNA testing has been done and no more is needed. The tests could be ordered by the governor, but he has made no public move to do so. Brown has been sitting on Cooper’s clemency petition, which details numerous examples of law enforcement misconduct in the case, for almost two and a half years.

​Following a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof about Cooper, California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein urged Brown to let the tests proceed. The tests could clear Cooper or confirm his guilt and could possibly identify the actual killers, initially described by the sole eyewitness, Joshua Ryen, as three white men. Cooper is African-American.

Cooper’s attorneys have focused attention for years on a white man who was implicated in the murders by his girlfriend, who called deputies after he came home the night of the murders wearing bloody coveralls, which she handed over to a deputy sheriff. She told the deputy her boyfriend was a convicted murderer of a 17-year-old girl and he had been out of prison less than a year. She also reported that the tan T-shirt he was wearing the day of the murders exactly matched a bloody shirt that was found and his missing hatchet resembled the bloody hatchet found near the crime scene.

No one from the sheriff’s homicide division ever called her, as she requested, or picked up the coveralls from the deputy. They were never tested for the victims’ blood, and they were thrown into a dumpster on the order of a sheriff’s department supervisor six months later, at the start of Cooper’s preliminary hearing. Eleven months after the murders, when the girlfriend called the sheriff’s department to find out why she had never been interviewed, the boyfriend was interviewed by two homicide detectives. He denied owning the coveralls and said his girlfriend thought the killers had stopped by her house during their escape and dropped off the coveralls, which were left in his bedroom closet. When asked if he would take a polygraph test, he said yes. However, the detectives changed their minds and said it would not be necessary.

​Kevin Cooper is a Truthdig contributor. His clemency petition and other documents in his case can be found here.

Journalist Narda Zacchino has been investigating this case for over a year. Her next story on Kevin Cooper’s bid for exoneration will appear on Truthdig soon.


If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.